Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rizal the Rock Star

7:54 AM

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Nearly anybody on the street will know the iconic profile – that brown skin, that dark coat, and that great hair: now available on t-shirts, bags, and posters. Schools, streets, and cities have been named after him, and many have dedicated their lives to studying his. Millions of high school students over generations have read both of his (in) famous novels, the essential experience of both secondary education.

You haven’t lived in the Philippines if you don’t know who I’m talking about.

In life, José Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda (I dare you to say that five times fast) was an ilustrado, a writer, and a polymath. In death, he is the rock star of Philippine history – and he’s certainly got the products, shows, and chicks to prove it. In the bandemonium that is history class, he’s the headliner, and he’s got groupies and fanatics even to this day.

But he is not our national hero.

You’re joking, right?
I’m not. I’m really not. 

During his term, President Fidel V. Ramos created the National Heroes Committee in order to, well, talk about national heroes. It was tasked to do one thing: to decide on who, among hundreds (even thousands) of historical figures, would ascend the ranks of hero-hood and become your next Filipino Idol.

Everyone was convinced that Rizal would win – and he did: along with eight other people. These were Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Muhammad Dipatuan Kudarat, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino, and Gabriela Silang.

You want to know what happened after the committee submitted their report?

Nothing.

There has never been a law or executive order issued by the government proclaiming that any of our historical figures are national heroes. However, they did actually do a number of things to honor them, such as immortalizing their features on our money and naming places after them.

The closest the government has come to explicitly declaring a true winner to Filipino Idol is declaring holidays to celebrate their lives, and only three individuals have ever gotten that honor: Benigno Aquino Jr. (who jumped into the competition almost a decade later), Andres Bonifacio, and, you guessed it, Jose Rizal.

Then why does everyone call Rizal the national hero?
The quick and easy answer: He was, and still is, just really popular.

I don’t say this to discount what all his admirers say about him – he picked up the pen instead of the sword, exposed the social cancer of the Spanish regime and Philippine society. He was a martyr for our country’s freedom, and his death was essential to the revolution that shook the land and the people.

But there are politics to everything, and the fact is that many people made sure that Rizal was made our national hero. This was in the works even when he was alive: He was on tour in Europe for several years, and already had an international following before he was exiled to Dapitan.

And if he wasn’t already popular when he was alive, then his death made certain of it, ala John Lennon. His works influenced the stylings of both Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo, who later shaped history in their own way. When he became president, Aguinaldo officially declared December 30 of every year a day of national mourning in Rizal’s honor.

Decades later, he was sponsored as a national hero (but not declared) by the American administration. Rizal was conveniently dead and beloved, and most importantly, non-violent: Perfect for their idea of “benevolent assimilation”.

And even years after the Joes left, the Rizal fever raged on, and it was immortalized by the Rizal Law. You know, the one that mandated that all educational institutions in the Philippines should offer courses about his life and his works. Yes, the one that makes sure that you’ve read (or at least know what happened in) both Noli and El Fili by the time you’ve left high school.

With the fangirling integrated into the educational system, it isn’t surprising that Rizal was held in such high esteem that he was already the national hero by the time the 60’s hit. Although many have begun to contest his position on that pedestal, I think it’s very obvious how much our mindsets have changed (see: the infinitely many documentaries and films about him and his works).

So what do you want us to do now?
You can do whatever you want. It doesn’t erase the fact that everything around you, from ideology to culture to technology, is the product of history.

Sure, it’s a study of the past, but that doesn’t mean that it’s past. Regardless of factuality, the way a story is told will often shape the way you see it in your head. To touch that rock star metaphor one more time: There’s a pretty good reason why he’s always on the Top Forty, as opposed to Gabriela Silang and Apolinario Mabini – and it’s not because his riffs are universally decreed as better than theirs.

The way he’s described, you really would be conditioned to think of Rizal as a noble martyr and nationalist – to think that he’s good music, and deserves to be played over and over into our ears all the time.

But doesn’t it ever strike you as odd that Rizal only wanted the Philippines acknowledged as a province of Spain, and not a colony? That he strove for Filipino identity, but didn’t want to be separated from the Mother Country? That he never wanted the masses to help change the country? That he might have killed off Elias, the only man of the masses in Noli, for more than just symbolism’s sake?

Personally, I think that behind the book-surfing and discussion-hopping, Rizal was a pretty confused guy – one that was elitist and prejudiced in his own way. But you and I will never truly know for certain because of the work that’s been put into glorifying and bashing him. There’s no such thing as an objective view of history, but this much is certain:

The myth becomes a man when you begin to ask questions.

Think about that the next time you see Rizal on someone’s t-shirt (complete with his favorite pair of sunglasses).

References 
 "Selection and proclamation of national heroes and laws honoring Filipino historical figures." . Reference and Research Bureau Legislative Research Service, House of Congress, n.d. Web. 17 July 2014. <http://www.congress.gov.ph/download/researches/rrb_0301_1.pdf>.

Article by PaCho
Art by Tamika
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PaCho is the nickname of a full-time fangirl who wants an infinite amount of money with which to travel the world and buy merchandise. This girl is currently amassing the skills to achieve these goals, and collecting stories and perspectives along the way (to consequently be the best that no one ever was) at a university. She will smile in satisfaction at the fall of the patriarchy and Western domination of international affairs. She is only half-joking about this (which means that she's completely serious).

Tamika Yamamoto has been around some 18 years and now she's an art major. Loves salmon sushi and has a dog named Taco. 

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